The prewar flathead five-string
RB-3 could be considered the
classic bluegrass banjo; Rudy Lyle, J.D. Crowe and
Sonny Osborne are among the legendary players who established their reputations on flathead RB-3s from the
banjo serial numbers vs. factory order numbers)
is a fine example of just such a
banjo. The original owner lived in Portsmouth, Ohio and his name has been
reported as Sam Kiebler (or Kibler). Genealogical records list a Howard
Kiebler (1904-1981) from Portsmouth but not a Sam, so the exact identity of the
original owner remains in question. The banjo was later owned for many
years (circa 1959-1988) by Howard Aldridge of Springfield, Ohio and was acquired
by its current owner in 1991.
photos above show #9602-5 being played by Howard Aldridge in a bar in
Springfield, Ohio circa 1965. The other musicians shown are
Frank Wakefield on mandolin,
Ralph James on guitar, Landon Rowe on left-handed
guitar, Russ Williams on bass, and
Luke Pauling on dobro.
Like many great-sounding old banjos, #9602-5
has been played enthusiastically over the years and so some repairs have been
necessary along the way. The current owner outlines these:
"The photos show the ebony fingerboard Howard had put on the
banjo. The original leaves and bows board had become hopelessly pitted, so
Howard, being a very good craftsman, built a new
board of ebony using most of
the original inlays, but creating his own design.
When I bought the banjo, I had Frank Neat build a new rosewood
board of original design. This is what you see in the photos.
Howard also refinished the neck and resonator and had the flange
In the process, a piece of the outer
metal on one of the holes broke out. Also the person doing it buffed the edges
to where they were no longer
The flange held up until 1996 when
it cracked through. Several years ago I bought a Kalamazoo on
that had a beautiful flange,
and that is what is on the banjo now.
When I bought the banjo it had a brass tension hoop of unknown origin. In 2007 I was fortunate enough to find a prewar pot metal
hoop from an RB-1. That is what is in the photos.
Like many other prewar tone rings, this one has had a previous owner drill extra holes in it. This one has 9 extra on the
upper hemisphere as one would hold the instrument."
Photos courtesy of an